For most people, ending the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic right now would be a huge win. The physical, emotional and financial challenges of shutdowns and collapsing economies make “crushing the curve” hugely attractive. But one Hawaiian researcher says controlling the curve would be better, at least for Hawai’i.
Monique Chyba, Department of Mathematics Professor at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, thinks we may be making a mistake by trying to crush the curve on SARS-CoV-2 in hopes of getting past it to reopen the economy. She believes a proactive combination of aggressive testing and contact tracing will create a more sustainable solution to the pandemic and its associated economic impacts.
The idea is to create a way to manage the virus over the long-term. By ramping up testing and contact tracing during times when changes are occurring in a city, state or community, the idea that the virus will never disappear becomes less threatening.
Targeting increased testing and tracing when businesses bring customers back with fewer restrictions, when tourism reopens and when schools reopen will allow management of the virus without the draconian measures that have crushed Hawai’i’s economy.
Chyba’s model assumes that COVID-19 is here to stay in Hawai’i. Therefore, controlling it and its impacts are the key. She believes her mathematical model approach can avoid lockdowns and save the Hawaiian economy.
The model includes data on daily reported cases, probabilities on when diagnosed patients will become symptomatic, if at all and possible hospitalizations. It also relies on data that determine the probability of asymptomatic people being found through contact tracing as well as historical data on government efforts like statewide lockdowns.
“This is an optimal control problem. By controlling mitigation measures such as travelers’ quarantine and the amount of testing and contact tracing, we can bring the curve to a desired state,” said Chyba, who is also a member of the Hawaiʻi Pandemic Applied Modeling work group. “An exponential decay is not the long term solution, it must be done in a more gradual manner.”
If Chyba’s mathematical model is accurate, this targeted approach may result in a 35 percent drop in daily COVID-19 cases in Hawai’i on September 22, compared with the case count on August 6. That means a total case count in Hawai’i of under 100 cases. Without more lockdowns and without an unproven vaccine.
That result takes into account improved overall contact tracing, the return of children to in-person learning in schools and the impact of park and beach closures. Strategic and targeted measures could then be applied to drive case counts even lower.
“The downside of this approach is that it takes longer, and I understand that it comes with consequences, but we might not have a choice at this point,” Chyba said. “We went from the lowest count to one of the highest percentage increases in the nation. We have to accept that there will be waves. Let us control them actively and not after the fact.”
Here’s the video explaining the whole concept:
Active management of a virus we may not get a “cure” or vaccine for? That sounds like following the data. If Chyba is right, other states and cities may want to consider a similar model. If the virus can be managed to minimize deaths and hospitalizations, economies can be reopened and life can resume before it’s too late to recover emotionally and financially.
After all, wasn’t that the whole point of “flattening the curve” in the first place?
Keep the faith and keep after it!